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When Smith decided to engage the BSO to play in her cow field the next year, she met with “Koussy” — apparently, that’s what everyone called him — and shared her vision of creating “an American Salzburg Festival.” But he had an even larger vision: to create an educational institution within the festival to train future performers and promote the music of living composers. His initial concert included an arrangement of Bach by Arnold Schoenberg, who had arrived in America only recently, as a refugee from Hitler’s Europe.
After two more summers in the cow pasture (but in a tent), and one concert that was nearly drowned out by a thunderstorm, a hall was built, which became affectionately known as the “Shed.” Koussevitzky inaugurated the Shed with Bach’s chorale “Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott”(“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”) — an audience of 6,000 sang along — and with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He chose the Ninth because, he said, “it is the greatest work in musical literature… and because Tanglewood could, through Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy,’ call all nations to brotherhood” — a sober thought, especially in 1938, the year of the Nazi Anschluss with Austria, occupation of Czechoslovakia, and Kristallnacht in Germany. The Berkshire Music Center, the educational facility now known as the Tanglewood Music Center, opened in 1940. By 1941, the campus added to the Shed the Theater-Concert Hall and Chamber Music Hall, and the festival was already attracting 100,000 visitors annually.
Koussy was passionate about developing a forward-looking culture of music, and also a specifically American symphonic culture. Pianist Oscar Levant once joked that Koussevitzky was “unparalleled in the performance of Russian music, whether it is by Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Strauss, Wagner or Aaron Copland.” Koussevitzky encouraged young composers and musicians many of whom happened to be Jewish. Even though merciless about Koussevitzky’s personal and professional shortcomings, critic Norman Lebrecht wrote, “No one gave more support to composers exiled by Nazis.” Even Stravinsky, who called him a hypocrite, a megalomaniac and worse epithets, remembered with reverence “those things Serge Koussevitzky did for others without telling anyone.”
Aaron Copland, who perhaps more than any other composer created the “sound” that Americans associate with the concept of “America,” was one of the greatest beneficiaries of Koussevitzky’s efforts. The BSO premiered many of his compositions. Copland became Koussevitzky’s assistant director at the center, whose faculty included numerous other Jewish musicians, notably cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Among the first students to benefit from Koussevitzky’s interest was Leonard Bernstein, who became almost synonymous with Tanglewood; he performed and taught there, and in 1990 he conducted his last concert at Tanglewood.